We haven’t had much snow this February, but we’ve had plenty of chances to want to stay inside and stay warm. The best wines for savoring the chill in the air are a category of wines called port. Most of us wine nerds are wild about them.
Port is a fortified wine, meaning alcohol was added during fermentation. The higher alcohol that results prevents the yeasts from fermenting the wine further. That makes a wine with residual sugar, meaning it tastes very sweet.
Produced in Portugal, port comes in many styles. Trying to describe the many nuanced types of port is just about as impossible as trying to describe Scotch, cheese or Champagne in just a few words. If you want to dig deeper, check out the excellent website www.fortheloveofport.com.
Today, I’ve picked two types that I love for their availability in our market, and for their reliability and affordability: Late Bottled Vintage (or LBV ports) and Tawny Port with an Indication of Age.
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Both styles are wines for conversation and meditation, perfect for sipping by the fire with good company. With alcohol content around 20 percent, they’re a bit higher than most wines, but still much lower than distilled spirits, making the next morning a bit more manageable.
Both versions are often sold in half-bottles. That’s perfect, as these wines are meant to be savored, and a small glass is the perfect portion.
Late Bottled Vintage Ports are produced from the grapes harvested in a single year, and the year is stated on the label. Aged for four to six years in large oak barrels, these wines show rich black fruit and spice character and are quite sweet. LBVs are delicious, and even very good examples are available for around $20.
The best food and wine pairing I ever had was at a cocktail party with people from Johnson & Wales. We had planned to serve chocolate with LBV port, but bread baker Harry Peemoeller made a classic German holiday bread, dense with fruit and nuts. The hit of the party was LBV port paired with that bread and a bit of Stilton cheese. I still dream about it.
Tawny Port with an Indication of Age is sold by decades; 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. The average age of wine in the blend is indicated by the age on the bottle. These wines are wonderfully reliable, with a consistent house style from year to year.
Do try a 20-year-old tawny. It still has a hint of the rich fruit character of the original wine, but the aging adds luscious flavors of toffee, honey and caramel. Absolutely luscious with a tiny wedge of a triple crème cheese like St. Andre or Brillat-Savarin, or with a handful of nuts. Or simply sip it on its own, after a meal.